By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist January 24, 2012 at 12:25PM
As you might imagine from a many-headed beast like The Academy, it’s impossible to predict exactly what the Oscars will be. Sure, precursor awards and prognosticators might make it seem like the race is done, but there’s so many unknowns, so many obscure rules and wild cards, that there will always be a fair few surprises.
And while there weren’t a ton of shocks in this morning’s announcement, there was plenty to keep the race lively; people who only a few weeks ago had seemed like locks going home empty handed, while individuals who barely figured into the awards conversation suddenly found themselves thrust into the spotlight. As such, below you’ll find a selection of the biggest snubs, and the biggest surprises, from the nominations for the 84th Academy Awards. Anything else you were expecting, and missed, or were surprised to see? Bring ‘em up in the comments section.
Best Director - David Fincher
Sometimes there’s no better shortcut to a nomination than being seen to have unfairly lost out the previous year. While “The King’s Speech”’s Best Picture chances became increasingly likely as the Oscars got closer, most assumed that David Fincher would take home Best Director as a consolation prize. When that happened, the thought that he might at least pick up a nomination for ‘Dragon Tattoo’ started to cross many minds, and as the film performed well at the guilds, including a key nomination for Fincher from the DGA, it started to look all but certain. But Fincher never campaigned (openly disdaining the awards race), and with the film mostly shut out from key categories, he followed. The director won’t give a shit, but his fans generally do. And while we always felt it was on a knife-edge (it's less accessible than their work on "The Social Network"), some might see the omission of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross' score for 'Dragon Tattoo' as a surprise -- considering they won the award last year, they always had a good chance.
Best Actor - Michael Fassbender
An actor in a breakout year, who won Best Actor at Venice, Michael Fassbender’s turn in “Shame” was always going to be a hard sell, particularly once the film landed an NC-17 rating. But Fox Searchlight fought the good fight, and despite missing out on a few precursors, including the SAG, he looked on course for his first nomination. But with Gary Oldman seemingly taking precedence for the British vote, and the explicit subject matter putting off more than a few voters (we’d heard that the film had played badly at Academy screenings, but thought he might get through), he’ll have to wait for another opportunity (of which we’re sure there’ll be many), to get his tux on.
Best Actor - Leonardo DiCaprio
Speaking of Best Actor, while some, including us, predicted the absence of “J.Edgar” star Leonardo DiCaprio from the final five, plenty more were sure that his SAG nod, and movie-star status, ensured that he’d get a nomination (some had even predicted he might win, at least before the film died at the box office. But it didn’t happen, the Academy presumably deciding they’d rather wait for a better film, with less creaky old-age make-up, to honor one of their favorites again.
Best Actress - Tilda Swinton
A performance we’d pointed to almost a year ago as a potential threat, we weren’t sure if Tilda Swinton would ever quite get the momentum behind her -- “We Need To Talk About Kevin” was always tough material, in a difficult-to-watch and divisive film, and with the film being at Oscilloscope, she didn’t have the same ad firepower behind her as some of the competition. But when she started to sweep critics groups, and landed SAG and even Golden Globe nominations, we, and many others, were convinced it was going to happen. Instead, Swinton will have to wait for a Best Actress nomination to go with her “Michael Clayton” win -- the character was seemingly too unsympathetic, and the source material too wrenching, to connect with Academy members.
Best Supporting Actor - Albert Brooks
Albert Brooks had a hell of a comeback year -- absent from the limelight for years, he stormed back with a best-selling book, by being the best at Twitter, and with an against-type stunner of a supporting performance in “Drive,” one that gathered awards chatter ever since it unspooled at Cannes. He worked the circuit hard, but the violent, tricky source material never connected with his peers, and after his SAG snub, the Oscar nomination was thrown into doubt, and sadly, it never came to pass. Whether this gives him more of a chance when he returns next year in Judd Apatow’s “This Is Forty,” a film more within his traditional comfort zone, depends on the material; we’ll have to see.
Best Screenplay - Steve Zaillian
“The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” managed a late surge in the awards race, thanks to nominations from the WGA, the DGA and the PGA, but other than Rooney Mara (who missed out with the guild), the film failed to land any major nods. Perhaps the most surprising was writer Steve Zaillian, who, whatever the film’s flaws, did a pretty strong job at pulling off a difficult adaptation. He’s not too upset; he got a nomination in the category anyway, for “Moneyball.” But it confirms that, whatever the high-class pedigree of the project, Academy members couldn’t get past the dark, pulpy source material of ‘Dragon Tattoo’
Best Screenplay - Will Reiser
We can’t have thought that the screenplay for “50/50” was something of a lock. A well-liked film, funny, yet about serious subject matter, with a WGA nomination in the bag, and most importantly, a great real-life narrative (a first-time scribe persuaded by his movie star pal to write a screenplay based on his own experiences with cancer). But Will Reiser failed to make the cut. Was it an Academy reticence to award a Seth Rogen movie (although a nomination for “Bridesmaids” suggests they're not shy to recognize R-rated comedy)? Was it a realization from other screenwriters that the script is actually the film’s weakest link, never quite managing to be funny or moving enough? Perhaps. We’re sure Reiser will go on to bigger and better things, nevertheless.
Best Animated Feature - “The Adventures of Tintin”/”Cars 2”
Ok, we were way off here. The domestic box office failure of “Arthur Christmas” meant that the film was always a little dicey, so that was less of a shock. No one much liked “Cars 2,” but since the inception of the category a decade ago, Pixar have been nominated every single year bar 2002 and 2005, and those years were only because they hadn’t made a film. Hopefully, missing out will serve as a reminder to John Lasseter to raise his game next time he makes a cash-grab sequel. Finally, “The Adventures of Tintin” was always on a knife-edge, but its absence confirms that the animators branch are just as suspicious of performance capture as the actors. Can any film win them over?
Best Documentary - “Project Nim”
A notoriously irritating, unpredictable category like Best Documentary was always going to provide a few upsets, but most of the big ones came early, when “The Interrupters” and “Senna” were left off the longlist. And one of best-liked docs of the year still missed out at the last, as James Marsh (who won in 2009 for “Man On Wire”) was snubbed for his excellent monkey man doc “Project Nim.” Maybe it’s because he’s already won (almost no one in recent years has been nominated more than once). Or maybe it’s that the branch favors politically-driven, issue-led films for the most part. Either way, it’s another shame in a category that needs reform well beyond the half-measures that have been offered so far.
Best Art Direction - “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
It was mixed news for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” -- while it got nominations in a number of other categories, the one that even the film’s detractors felt was the most likely fell by the wayside. Maria Djurkovic’s work on the film was easily one of the technical highlights of last year; an impossibly detailed, musty invocation of 1970s Britain. But in a tough category (we don’t necessarily begrudge any of the other nominees), something had to give, and it was Djurkovic. Sad, to be sure, but we’re sure she’s lined up all kinds of other work down the line.
Best Visual Effects - "The Tree of Life"
Obviously, "The Tree of Life" is not the kind of film that ordinarily gets a visual effects nomination, but given the mind-bending dawn of time sequence, featuring everything from CGI dinosaurs to chemical processes, most thought it stood a good chance, especially with "2001" veteran Douglas Trumbull involved -- he's getting a lifetime achievement award this year. But no dice -- instead, the rock'em'sock'em robots of "Real Steel" became an Oscar nominee. Sigh.
Best Picture - “The Tree of Life”
Terrence Malick’s long-delayed opus was in and out of the awards conversation after its Palme D’Or win, but Guild snubs meant that most had ruled out its chances at a Best Picture nomination. But not only did Malick manage a nomination himself, as was always more likely, but the film found itself among the nine Best Picture contenders. The lesson here? Under the new system, where a film needs 5% of first-place votes to get a nomination, passion counts for a lot, and few films had more fervent supporters than this one. It’s always going to be too divisive to win, but the nod, and the fact that he’s never won before, suddenly makes Malick someone to watch in the director category.
Best Picture - “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close”
A less pleasant surprise, and arguably the biggest of the whole announcement, was the shock Best Picture nomination for “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” We’d pegged it early on as a strong contender even to win, but then the film was screened, and it got some of the most poisonous reviews of the year. That, plus a total shut-out of most precursors, and a disappointing early box office, meant that almost everyone had written it off completely. But thanks to hard-fought, persistent campaigning by Warners and their Oscar publicists, it managed to connect with enough Academy members to make the cut. Sure, the fact that it only got one other nomination (for Max Von Sydow) suggests it doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. And, sure, it might be the worst Best Picture nominee since, what, “Doctor Dolittle?” “Cleopatra?” Ever? But at this point, if Scott Rudin produced a Stephen Daldry film that involved nothing but kittens being thrown into wood chippers for 90 minutes, it’d probably still manage a nomination.
Best Actor - Demián Bichir
But as surprising as Oldman was, the nomination for Demián Bichir was even more surprising. The Mexican actor was more or less unknown when cast in the lead in Chris Weitz’s little-seen “A Better Life,” only faintly recognizable as Castro in “Che” (which even fewer people likely saw), but awards talk wouldn’t die down around the performance. Even when he got an SAG nomination, most put it down to a guild-led curio unlikely to be repeated. But there he is, among four much better-known nominees, in what we like to call ‘The Richard Jenkins Slot.’ And kudos to Summit on this one; they made sure the film was the first screener to land on Academy members’ doorsteps, and clearly the quality of the performance lingered.
Best Actor - Gary Oldman
As the philosopher Aristotle once famously said: toldja. When we made our predictions last week, even we admitted we were out on a bit of a limb predicting Oldman to be one of the nominees, but we felt that the quality of the admittedly low-key turn, as well as the oft-repeated fact that Oldman had never been nominated, would see George Smiley through to the Kodak. Which doesn’t mean that we weren’t surprised when we were right. Despite Oldman’s sometimes prickly relationship with Hollywood, his peers dug the performance (if, clearly the film less so), and few nominations this morning have been greeted with a warmer reaction. It’s also nice to see a well-deserved posthumous nomination for co-writer Bridget O’Connor, who completed the ‘Tinker Tailor’ script with real-life partner Peter Straughan not long before she passed last year.
Best Actress - Rooney Mara
While perhaps the most left-field choice -- the category had generally been seen to be six actresses fighting for five places -- most prognosticators suggested that Rooney Mara would be left out in the cold, But in fact, she snuck in, and we’d argue deservedly so -- her take on Lisbeth Salander was a far more interesting one (and far more faithful to the book) than Noomi Rapace’s, and the nod has certainly confirmed her stardom. Whether or not it comes from the Academy’s subconscious desire to make sure some pretty young ingenue is there, clearly the contrast between her performance in “The Social Network” and the almost unrecognizable Swedish hacker made an impression on the Academy.
Best Screenplay - “Margin Call” & “A Separation”
The field in original screenplay seems to get thinner every year (as much as we like “The Artist,” we’re not sure it’s a golden example of the form), so it was nice to see a well-written pair of relatively under-the-radar films perform strongly. Some of the cannier predictors (not including ourselves, it should be said), had felt that Asghar Farhani’s excellent work on “A Separation” could get in to the five, and so it did, a rare example of the best written film of the year gaining recognition. And the steady success of “Margin Call” since it premiered at Sundance a year ago climaxed with debut writer/director J.C. Chandor gaining a nod. The film had to settle for that alone, despite some vague talk of Best Supporting Actor for Kevin Spacey, or even Best Picture, but it’s cemented Chandor’s place as someone that everyone’s going to want to work with next time around.
Best Original Song - Well, Everything
The only category where we got everything wrong, in part to thanks to the Academy awarding only two songs. Which can only lead to the question: what’s the fucking point? Nominations for arguably the least good song in “The Muppets,” and for a Black Eyed Peas knock-off from an animated film that everyone’s already forgotten suggests that even those in the songwriter’s branch are struggling to get enthused about the category, let alone the millions who get up for a piss and a cigarette during the performances. We can only hope that this is the start of a gradual fading out in the category; one nomination in 2013, and none in 2014...
Best Score - John Williams Gets Two, Alberto Iglesias Gets One
John Williams is a master, we know that, and we get that. And we were fully expecting him to get one nomination, particularly as he hadn't scored a film in over three years, and already has five wins and 45 nominations. But bringing that total up to 47 with two scores which, while pleasant enough, are far from his best work, was a bit of an eyebrow raiser. Still, it was a more pleasant surprise to see Alberto Iglesias get in for his superb work on "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy," particularly as he's never won.